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April 27, 2004

Spinning and crash landing

Getting back into the country is strange. Actually, returning was surprisingly simple - there were no problems with customs or immigration. However walking into my bedroom and looking at the mass of things I have accumulated over 26 years of life and learned to do with out (and still be happy) for eight months was disconcerting. It is difficult to feel connected to any of these items I once cherished. Many I can still appreciate but there are some things that have got to go (like cheesy books and clothes that either don't fit or have stains).

Yet there is an urge to pick up right where I left off, as if I hadn't been gone at all. This is a most disturbing fear of mine. Not only did I gain memories while traveling but I also gained happiness and a certain comfortableness with the world. I would hate to lose those in the vacant materialistic world that is the suburbs of the U.S. True, India is materialistic, but it isn't vacant. Being here I can see how much easier it is to place things in my life than people. People (especially friendly ones) are few and far between but there are stores and stores full of lonely things just hoping to find happy homes.

Perhaps I need to remember that things also require compromises. While with people I cannot always be right, make them happy, or do whatever I want, with things I have to spend lots of time working to support my accumulation habit - never mind finding the space to put all this stuff.

I am fortunate, keeping this blog has made my life more cohesive, connecting my evolving travel self with the one I left behind. Usually there is a painful collision when my changed self tries to reunite with the character I left behind at home. Though the impact of re-entry is less harsh than last time, like egos, old selves don't die easy and I can feel the shadow of my former self tugging at my sleeve as I try to lighten my life and my load. I only hope the happier self wins.

April 23, 2004

Back in the U.S.A.

I feel like a tourist in my own country. I have a difficult time understanding the accent. My heart raced as the vehicle I was in approached 75 miles per hour (I haven't gone that fast, not counting airplanes, in eight months) and I was at first bemused then bored by the orderly way people drive here. I constantly question in which language to say 'thank you' and 'sorry'. I am amazed by the manicured roadsides and lack of pollution.

The thirty-hour plane ride here was blissfully uneventful.

I look forward to being in a large crowd of people again. This time it will be the march for women's right to choose whether to carry a fetus in her body to full term. I think forcing a woman to remain pregnant against her own wishes is a most vile and hateful thing, causing harm to both her and the potential child she is carrying. Usually I don't do marches; usually I have better things to do. However our current president seems determined to take this right I grew up with away so I feel in response that I need to proclaim my pro-choice beliefs extra loud. I know this is a controversial and sensitive subject. I usually avoid this topic because it is the one area of my life where there is no room for discussion or compromise, thinking about either makes me quite upset.

I prefer to stay calm.

April 21, 2004

Leaving Again

My past few days here have been a haze of business and friends, filled with nostalgic longing for more time in vibrant India. Even as I am eager to see my family and loved ones in the U.S., I am sad to be leaving those I care about here, unsure of when I shall return.

Who could have guessed that India would steal my heart so thoroughly? Not I, and probably no one else because I didn't get lost in this country the way I hear most people do. I never found God, I was not entranced by all the holy things, and I neither lost nor found myself in this land of contradictions.

Granted I was entranced by the color and life that most visitors notice. Everything here is alive, from the garbage on the streets to saris and salwar-kameezes worn by women. There is fullness to the air that satisfies my constantly curious sense of smell. And the cows, people, dogs, horses, and lord only knows what else parading through the streets, combined with the green flowering trees and plants certainly keep the eyes entertained. I observed and came to adore these things as the increasingly familiar pattern of streets in Bangalore, Delhi, and Dharamsala, laid grids in my soul that will call me back until the end of time.

However, while all these things are fabulous, the people I met and the friends I made are the real treasures of time well spent in this maddeningly diverse nation. As well as securing friends all over the U.S., from Maine to California, I came to know Tibetans, Indians, and Arabs from all over the middle east. As I traveled my social circle at times included people from every continent. I am going to miss these perspectives and the people they belong to.

By tomorrow I shall be in Washington DC, struggling to adjust to a new time zone and a different culture. On Sunday I will be joining many others in the struggle to keep women's right to choose in the U.S. as we march in the capital. On Monday I will be returning to Dayton, Ohio and the familiar home of my 92 year-old grandmother.

April 17, 2004

Winding Up

Too much to do and too little time, this is the story of my life lately. Sadly, very sadly, I am leaving this crazy land of amazement in a few short days, so I have been packing in the pleasure on my way out.

Well, it hasn't all been a bed of roses; I pulled a couple all-nighters (and really felt like a college student) and finally finished my senior thesis. Yup, it is done early. Now I just have to finish a few last minute design issues and pray to the typo gods before sending it to the printers.

I also have been enjoying Bangalore's club scene. Most people don't think of India as a place with a night life, but I assure you that if you are in the area it is well worth the stop. The music is diverse, they were even playing "Black Star" the other night. These are the only clubs where I actually enjoy the hip-hop music. However it isn't just the music that makes a place appealing but also the layout. So far all the places I have been to have a roof or veranda where you go to escape the heat and loud noises, and even carry on a good conversation at normal talking levels. One popular place, The Club (pronounced Dee Club) is actually a country club during the day, so the grounds are extensive containing a pool and a basketball court.

When we went out Thursday the crowd inside was unbearable and the mosquitoes outside weren't much better, so I proposed we play basketball. That I was wearing skirt and heels was no deterrent. In Dharamsala all the youth play and the last time I picked up the ball I was hit in the nose. I was determined to make up for this.

I did - despite the fact that I was the worst player there and the most disadvantaged, I made three baskets. I should add that these heels are the most comfortable ones I have ever owned and they are only an inch high. Sadly, right around the time I realized that the game was never-ending because no one was keeping score, the strap on my shoe gave out. I knew there was a reason girls don't usually play in those things. Luckily India is the land of miracles and I got my favorite shoes fixed for five rupees (a little over a dime). I will miss this place.

April 12, 2004

Views from Central India

April 10, 2004

Back in Beloved Beautiful Bangalore

It feels so nice to be back. I think that is always a good feeling no matter where one is returning too. I know I felt it in MacLeod Ganj as well. Traveling is marvelous, the sights, smells, sounds, and stories that one collects along the way are life long treasures, but half the fun is definitely returning home to friends and familiarity, looking at it all with the new perspective gained along the way.

That said, the train ride was every bit as wonderful as I hoped, and just as hot as I feared. I am thankful for my my Tennessee background; it has served me many times and this was one of them. During mid-day we all wilted and the children kept washing their faces to cool off. Luckily the humidity wasn't to high so water did act as a cooling agent.

I was fortunate enough to be traveling in the same car with a gaggle of children (they were all Tibetan too, but I am trying not to be predjudiced here) and I utilized my meager origame (paper folding) skills to the utmost. If there is one skill I recommend for traveling, that is it; simple, inexpensive and bording on magical for those of the right age group or mindset, origame is a sure way to make friends or at least break some ice. Of course, eventually the heat melted all the ice on the train anyway.

April 07, 2004

Down Hill

I survived what has got to be the worst nicest bus ride in the world. You see the bus was actually quite nice - cushy seats, not too crowded (but never enough room for my knees) but the ride down from McLeod Ganj was nauseating. I had to hold my stomach at times and pray fervently not to, as the Australians say, chunder (which they claim comes from a shortened version of, "Watch out down under!" a frequent enough call at sea to warrant slang).

It didn't help that this devilish decent was in the dark.

Finally we got down to the warm moist semi-level ground and I was confronted with more torture. Most of the time the road was tolerable and I did something slightly resembling sleep, however, just often enough to be really annoying we would hit a bad patch and suddenly be bumped all over the place. As if that wasn't bad enough the overhead compartments didn't latch shut completely and at least once I got beamed in the head by shifting luggage. After that I woke up whenever we hit a seriously bumpy spot and watched the overhead compartment vigilantly.

Oh isn't it marvelous to be traveling! Despite the horror of the twelve hour ride, I am in good spirits (a nap and shower do wonders). I believe the worst part is over - at least on the train I will be able to walk around and lay down in my bunk. I can also, miraculously, read on the train without getting sick. Then there are the hours of watching the fields fly by. I only hope it is half as good as I imagine.

April 05, 2004

Hello Good Bye

This is a photo of the little girl I wrote about last week - she is just so adorable (and full of character as you can see) I wanted to post this picture all week but hadn't been able to until now. Normally I loathe selling things so I will only let people know that they can help poor and/or orphaned Tibetan children get an education and become self-sufficient (by they time they are adults, of course). The TCV website is well designed and will tell you all you need to know if you feel you are able to contribute in this way or are curious about the issue.

And now to completely change the subject:

Tommorrow is my last day here! I am so mixed up about leaving. I used to have a big chip on my shoulder when traveling because I never wanted to meet people when I would probably never have the pleasure of their company again. But the only good chips are the ones you eat (and don't eat too many!) so I got over that and learned how to live more in the moment and take joy in the people I meet along the way - regardless of what the future holds.

However when theory runs into reality it is rarely an easy mix and after spending several weeks here, making valuable friends, leaving is a tough thing to do. This is compounded by the fact that this is India, a place that while cheap to live and travel in, is anything but cheap to fly to. It will probably be awhile before I make it back here and my friends, all of whom are refugees, will hopefully have found more permanent homes in other countries by then. So it really is goodbye.

On the other hand I am going back to Bangalore! The place I lived for several months and still consider my home in India. I get to see my most wonderful host family again and all my other friends whom I have missed dearly for the past several months. Every good bye is also a hello.

Then throw the two day train ride into the mix and you can see my excitement mounting, but also add the heat that has risen since my last train ride two months ago. I tried to get an A/C ticket (something I wouldn't consider anywhere else) but they were all sold out. I will most likely really smell like India by the time I get to Bangalore...